Fruit and Soil

This winter, our Kaffir Lime spent time in the house to keep warm. While inside, a scale infestation occurred on the branches, stunting the growth of new leaves and making the lime look sickly. Soap baths did little to stem the insect invasion. By spring, it was time for the Kaffir to get back outside. The greenhouse was warm enough to host our more tropical friends and the lime gave a sigh of relief to be back out. A friend speculated with me that once the lime got back outside, friendly insects would clean off the scale and renew the plant. I was hopeful, and rewarded! The Kaffir Lime is thriving, and putting out new fruit buds.

Who has the young citrus tree befriended? Ants! The scale is gone, and now a column of ants patrols each branch of this lovely tree. If we cultivate a plant in artificial space, it looses many of its beneficial friends that our planned cultivation tactics don’t see or know about. It’s yet another example of how human ego exuded on nature fails. Even though this tree is still far from its original home in tropical Asia, the ants are everywhere, and know a sweet treat when they find it. This little lime has a watchful army now backing its growth. That’s better assistance then I can give, other than water, a greenhouse, and some occasional pruning. The Kaffir is also domesticated by man, making it small and manageable for container gardening through the ages. I have to acknowledge that while the ants can take care of insect predation, it was the human gift of genetic selection that brought this citrus tree to Washington State, and Leafhopper Farm.


Compost check! There is a black barrel sitting in the yard, mostly grown over with tall grass at this time of year. About 8 months ago this composting barrel was filled with yard clippings, food waste, clay, sand, lime, and other organic matter. It’s been cooking down and getting rolled around, but mostly neglected. Now I’ve popped the top to have a look, and what I’ve found is glorious. Rich, dark loam! However, there is something slightly lacking in this soil. The thick black plastic of the barrel not only allows for rolling to mix, but also heats up in the sun to cook down the bio-matter. The positive side of cooking your soil means no stray weed and grass seed waiting to germinate. The down side of cooked soil: low organism count, meaning the soil is dead. There was only a small worm count in this barrel, and little to no sign of mycelia taking hold. That’s ok for now. We’ll bulk up the living organisms when we lay this soil back on the earth, reconnecting it to the thriving organic community that inhabits the ground.We could also infuse the soil by inoculating it with mycelia, or mixing in live cultures. Personally, I’m about low maintenance, hence letting the barrel do all the work in breaking down the compost using heat and a little turning.


Finally, a check in with our established fruit orchard. It is a bumper year for fruit trees in Western Washington. I’d like to brag that my pruning has helped, but even our unpruned apple trees are heavy with developing young fruits. One arborist friend told me it could be the final push from the old trees, a sign of eventual decline for this outdated orchard. But the bumper crop of fruit is showing on neighbor’s trees and around town too. Perhaps our wettest winter on record gave the trees a bonus watering to make up for the drought last summer. Also, I could be tooting my horn too soon. The road to harvest is still a few months to the end, leaving a gauntlet of hazards such as apple moths, blight, scab, weevils, hail, and more.


If the harvest is great, then there’s another challenge: what to do with all these apples and how to store them. In the first year of living on this land (2013), there was another large fruit harvest. The apples give every year, but the pear trees are on a 2-3 year cycle, and we’re due this year for a complete line up of fruiting trees. Our asian pear, the bartlett, and apples are all growing young fruits right now. The small dehydrator will not be able to keep up, and the fridge space is limited, so what to do? We’ve juiced the asian pears before, but it was such a waste of good fruit pulp, I’d like to better utilize the harvest. We also have a pair of pigs, who will be stationed under the trees after picking is done, to encourage our porkers the opportunity to flavor themselves with fermented fallen fruit. We’ll be attempting to build a walk in cooler for storing our pigs after slaughter, and it looks like we’ll be putting up fruit too. This doubles our efforts to get that cooler built.


On a final note about fruit, the first flowers are budding out on the tomato plants. This is the earliest I’ve had tomatoes started, but I didn’t seed these lovely friends, they came from starts grown by friends living on the East side of the mountains. My own seeds of tomatoes have not germinated well this year. It’s difficult to get any plant from the nightshade family going in this climate (except certain potato varieties). I really need to stop putting time into peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. Those are not suited to Western Washington and take so much work. I’m grateful this year to my friends who started tomatoes and gifted them to me this year. Perhaps I’ll cultivate an annual trade with them, offering species that only thrive on this side of the mountains in return for my coveted tomatoes.



1 thought on “Fruit and Soil”

  1. Tell more about the anticipated walk in cooler. I’m intrigued! How do you build one vs purchase a professional model?
    And the lime story is so good: ants do have their uses!
    How about a photo of the growing pigs??
    Apple bacon: I can taste it now!!


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